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Tennesseans Liberalizing on Liquor

Local citizens across the Volunteer State overwhelmingly voted to flip their towns from dry to wet this past election, with more than two dozen communities saying ‘yes’ to liquor stores or the sale of liquor in restaurants.

Of 32 local referendums held last week to allow either package stores or liquor by the drink — or both — 25 passed.


View Tennessee Liquor Public Votes 2012 in a larger map

In some counties, the ‘yes’ votes were overwhelming. In Robertson County, for example, four cities approved alcohol sales: Coopertown, Cross Plains, Greenbrier and Orlinda. And in Hawkins County, Church Hill, Mt. Carmel and Rogersville approved liquor by the drink.

From Pigeon Forge to McKenzie, liquor sales won over the voters.

See the complete list by clicking here.

The support sets the table for a push in the 2013 legislative session to allow grocery stores to sell wine, according to the former assistant director and general counsel of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission who now serves as a lobbyist for state grocery stores.

“We’re going to make a much stronger effort this year to pass it in the House and the Senate,” said Dan Haskell. “Both the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor are openly in favor of this. This is going to be a different kind of year.”

“I think we’re going to win,” Haskell said. “The vast majority of Tennesseans want us to win.”Thirty-three states allow grocery stores to sell wine, but big-gun lobbying by Tennessee’s liquor wholesalers and retailers have for years blocked legislation to legalize wine sales in grocery stores.

As far as Tennessee’s cities that have approved liquor-by-the-drink measures, Haskell says there will be little change in those cities — only that folks going to local restaurants will now be able to raise a glass.

Those getting liquor licenses “are mostly restaurants that are there already and decided to upgrade their activity because it means more money for the merchant, more taxes are paid to the city and the citizens don’t have to drive as far when they go out for dinner,” he said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.